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Investigating the importance of sediment resuspension in Alexandrium fundyense cyst population dynamics in the Gulf of Maine

May 8, 2014

Cysts of Alexandrium fundyense, a dinoflagellate that causes toxic algal blooms in the Gulf of Maine, spend the winter as dormant cells in the upper layer of bottom sediment or the bottom nepheloid layer and germinate in spring to initiate new blooms. Erosion measurements were made on sediment cores collected at seven stations in the Gulf of Maine in the autumn of 2011 to explore if resuspension (by waves and currents) could change the distribution of over-wintering cysts from patterns observed in the previous autumn; or if resuspension could contribute cysts to the water column during spring when cysts are viable. The mass of sediment eroded from the core surface at 0.4 Pa ranged from 0.05 kg m−2 near Grand Manan Island, to 0.35 kg m−2 in northern Wilkinson Basin. The depth of sediment eroded ranged from about 0.05 mm at a station with sandy sediment at 70 m water depth on the western Maine shelf, to about 1.2 mm in clayey–silt sediment at 250 m water depth in northern Wilkinson Basin. The sediment erodibility measurements were used in a sediment-transport model forced with modeled waves and currents for the period October 1, 2010 to May 31, 2011 to predict resuspension and bed erosion. The simulated spatial distribution and variation of bottom shear stress was controlled by the strength of the semi-diurnal tidal currents, which decrease from east to west along the Maine coast, and oscillatory wave-induced currents, which are strongest in shallow water. Simulations showed occasional sediment resuspension along the central and western Maine coast associated with storms, steady resuspension on the eastern Maine shelf and in the Bay of Fundy associated with tidal currents, no resuspension in northern Wilkinson Basin, and very small resuspension in western Jordan Basin. The sediment response in the model depended primarily on the profile of sediment erodibility, strength and time history of bottom stress, consolidation time scale, and the current in the water column. Based on analysis of wave data from offshore buoys from 1996 to 2012, the number of wave events inducing a bottom shear stress large enough to resuspend sediment at 80 m ranged from 0 to 2 in spring (April and May) and 0 to 10 in winter (October through March). Wave-induced resuspension is unlikely in water greater than about 100 m deep. The observations and model results suggest that a millimeter or so of sediment and associated cysts may be mobilized in both winter and spring, and that the frequency of resuspension will vary interannually. Depending on cyst concentration in the sediment and the vertical distribution in the water column, these events could result in a concentration in the water column of at least 104 cysts m−3. In some years, resuspension events could episodically introduce cysts into the water column in spring, where germination is likely to be facilitated at the time of bloom formation. An assessment of the quantitative effects of cyst resuspension on bloom dynamics in any particular year requires more detailed investigation.